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Sturgeon Week Features

Fishing WisconsinWinnebago System sturgeon spearing 2017

Big fish to date

Gerald Peterson’s 154.9-pound, 83.4-inch female was the largest fish of the 2017 sturgeon spearing season.

It's over - February 26, 2017

The 2017 sturgeon spearing season on the Winnebago System is now complete. As expected, things ended in a slow fashion with only 10 fish harvested over the last 7 days of the season (8 on Monday, 1 on Tuesday, 1 on Wednesday, and 0 fish each of the last 4 days).  The season still closes with a total harvest of 847 fish (552 from Lake Winnebago and 295 from the Upriver Lakes).

I’ve been asked to summarize this season in a few sentences and overall I would say this was a successful season for the following reasons:

  • Opening day shanty counts (>5,000 shacks) indicate that many license holders were able to take part in the early part of the season. Thus another season provided opportunities to renew traditions and create memories.
  • Large fish in the harvest. We had 9 fish harvested that were 140 pounds or larger. In comparison there were only 12 fish of this size harvested within the last 4 seasons combined (3 in 2013; 8 in 2014; 0 in 2015; 1 in 2016).  
  • We can’t control Mother Nature and climate, but 2017 was another safe season as spearers were able to take part in the sport safely.
  • 847 license holders were able to fill their tag. This is down from averages over the last decade, but still the largest recreational spear harvest for sturgeon in the world and an increase over last season (703 fish).

There will be more information to come in future reports that I plan to distribute throughout the next week. One advantage of a slower finish to the season is we were able to get most of the harvest data entered before the season closed, so we should have the successful spearer list ready for distribution in the next couple of days.  Here are a few highlights from the Lake Winnebago and Upriver Lakes seasons.

Lake Winnebago:

  • Harvest of 552 fish from Lake Winnebago ranks 45th highest out of 77 seasons dating back to 1941.
  • 46 fish 100 pounds or larger harvested, including 9 fish 140 pounds or larger
  • 8.3% of harvest fish 100 pounds or larger. This is the 2nd highest value on record dating back to 1955, behind only 2013 (9.5% of harvest). Stark increase from 2015 and 2016 seasons that each had 2.0% of the Lake Winnebago harvest be fish 100+ pounds.
  • 5,074 shanties on opening day was the 2nd highest shanty count on record behind only 2009 (5,958 shanties).
  • 5th full 16-day season within the last 7 years; only 2014 and 2015 seasons ended early.

Upriver Lakes:

  • Harvest of 295 fish 7th largest harvest since lottery fishery implemented in 2007 (11 seasons; average harvest 297.2 sturgeon/season).
  • First full 16-day season since lottery fishery implemented, largely because of increased harvest caps over recent seasons.
  • 8 fish 100 pounds or larger harvested (2.7%) down slightly from last season (3.6% of harvest).  

-- Ryan Koenigs, fisheries biologist, Oshkosh

Lake Winnebago system sturgeon spearing regulations 2017

The 2017 Lake Winnebago System Sturgeon Spearing Regulations [PDF]

2017 Lake Winnebago - season totals

Daily harvest Season harvest Harvest cap
Juvenile females 0 50 344
Adult females 0 260 855
Males 0 242 976
Totals 0 552 -

2017 Upriver Lakes - season totals

Daily harvest Season harvest Harvest cap
Juvenile females 0


Adult females 0


Males 0 178 244


303 -

2017 Winnebago system sturgeon season summary reports

Tagging your sturgeon

What you need to know [PDF]

2016 Winnebago system sturgeon vignettes

Sturgeon shanty rentals

If you or someone you know rents shanties for the spearing season on Lake Winnebago and/or the Upriver Lakes, please send the contact information to Ryan Koenigs. Shanty rental information is very popular (and helpful) to first-time sturgeon spearers.

Sturgeon license sales for 2017 season

Interest in sturgeon spearing continues to be strong with 12,962 licenses sold for the 2017 season, including 12,479 for Lake Winnebago and 483 for the Upriver Lakes.

History of the Upriver Lakes sturgeon spear fishery and trends in the modern era

More information about the history of the Upriver Lakes spear fishery can be viewed in the document History of the Upriver Lakes Sturgeon Spear Fishery and Trends in the Modern Era. [PDF]

2015 sturgeon spearing season summaries

Sturgeon spearing culture

The ice-fishing season for lake sturgeon is more about getting together and fishing together than harvesting a lunker.

Sturgeon guard

There are two critical time periods for collecting data from our sturgeon population, the annual spearing season and spring spawning assessments.  Each year thousands of lake sturgeon migrate up the tributaries of the Winnebago System (Wolf, upper Fox, Embarrass and Little Wolf Rivers most notably) to spawn. The sturgeon spawn along rocky shorelines on outside river bends and literally spawn at your feet.  This provides a great opportunity to view sturgeon spawning in the wild, which is an experience not available anywhere else in North America.  However, poaching has historically been a concern given the vulnerability of these majestic fish during spawning.  The Sturgeon Guard program was implemented to curtail the illegal activity and protect these fish during spawning periods.  At first, law enforcement officers would monitor known spawning sites, but it was difficult for the warden staff to cover all of the known spawning areas with a limited work force.  The Sturgeon Guard program then went public and the rest is history.  The general public can now sign up for 12-hour shifts to watch sturgeon spawn and protect the fish from harassment and other illegal activity.  There are hundreds of folks who sign up every year for this opportunity, and this really is an example of a successful collaboration between the community and the DNR that has helped the population significantly increase!  As the spearing season draws near the end, I thought it would be beneficial to highlight a potential next opportunity for folks interested in sturgeon and that opportunity is volunteering through the Sturgeon Guard program.

Contact information
For more information, please contact:
Karl Scheidegger
Fisheries biologist
Last revised: Monday March 20 2017